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Judge Denounces Harsh Words About Judiciary

A federal judge in Chicago whose husband and mother were murdered in their home in February criticized televangelist Pat Robertson and unnamed lawmakers for “harsh rhetoric” about the judiciary, which she said could incite violence against judges and endanger their lives.

Judge Joan Lefkow told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that verbal attacks on the judiciary “can only encourage those who are on the edge or on the fringe to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them,” according to the New York Times.

Lefkow is the judge who on Feb. 28 discovered the bodies of her husband and 89-year-old mother in the basement of their home. An out-of-work electrician whom Lefkow had ruled against last year killed himself after confessing to the murders in a suicide note.

Testifying on the need to increase security for court employees, Lefkow called on senators to “publicly and persistently repudiate gratuitous attacks on the judiciary.”

“We need your help in tempering the tone on the debates that concern the independence of the judiciary,” she said.

As an example, she alluded to Robertson’s May 1 comments describing an “out-of-control” judiciary as a greater threat to America than Al Qaeda, World War II or the Civil War.

“I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together,” Robertson said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” describing an “assault” on marriage and human sexuality in recent court rulings.

“If you look at over the course of a hundred years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that’s held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings,” he said.

Countering Robertson, Lefkow told the panel: “I have come to know scores of judges during my 22 years as a magistrate judge, bankruptcy judge and district judge. Whether a liberal or conservative, I have never encountered a judge in the federal judiciary who can remotely be described as posing a threat as Mr. Robertson said, ‘probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.'”

Lefkow did not name any lawmakers, but also mentioned in her testimony the debate over the case of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman who died after her feeding tube was removed at her husband’s request.

House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Texas, at one point said of judges who refused to intercede in the case, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

Lefkow, who has been under federal protection since the killings, said she has received about 200 letters from other judges who “know in their own hearts that ‘this could have been me.'”

Her testimony came amid heated debate over the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to a federal appellate court. The debate is expected to culminate in a series of votes that could end Democrats’ right to filibuster against judicial nominations, a move so radical it is called the “nuclear option.”

Frustrated by efforts to block up-or-down votes on some of President Bush’s nominees, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Wednesday the purpose of filibusters was “to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.”

Citing Lefkow’s testimony that morning, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., admonished Frist and other lawmakers to watch their language.

“Those words are inappropriate,” Durbin said, quoted by the Associated Press. “Those words go too far.”

A spokesman for Frist told the AP that the word “assassinate” has more than one meaning, such as the expression “character assassination.”

Republican aides said Democrats have also used harsh words to describe judges, like Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who in 2003 called Bush’s judicial nominees “Neanderthals.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Previous related story:Pat Robertson Says ‘Activist’ Courts Pose Greater Threat than Terrorism